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FEC Limits Lawmakers’ Fundraising for Super PACs

In an unusual show of unanimity, the Federal Election Commission has rejected a bid by conservative lawyer James Bopp Jr. to directly challenge the longstanding ban on soft money fundraising by federal officials.

Democrats running their own super political action committees had asked the Federal Election Commission whether such PACs could rely on Members of Congress and national party officials to raise unlimited, unregulated money, as Bopp had said he intended.

In a 6-0 ruling, the FEC delivered an emphatic, “No.” At a time when campaign finance regulations have been rolled back on several fronts, the FEC action signaled that the 2002 soft money ban, at least, stands pat. The ruling came as something of a rebuke to Bopp, who has led the charge to overturn the campaign finance rules and had announced plans to have elected officials raise soft money for his “Republican Super PAC.”

“The FEC came down pretty clearly that these types of unlimited, soft money solicitations were not permitted,” said Tara Malloy, associate legal counsel for The Campaign Legal Center.

But the FEC did clear the way for federal officials such as lawmakers and party leaders to collect hard (regulated) money for super PACs. An outgrowth of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, such PACs may raise unlimited corporate and union funds as long they fully disclose their spending and don’t coordinate with candidates.

The FEC action means lawmakers and party officials may collect money for super PACs as long as they stick within the $5,000 federal PAC contribution limit and don’t go after prohibited corporate and union treasury funds. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are already soliciting hard money for two leading Democratic super PACs: Majority PAC and House Majority PAC, which had brought the request to the FEC.

Bopp has argued that federal soft money solicitations are legal because super PACs themselves are free to raise unregulated funds. “This is a federal PAC, fully subject to all requirements of the [Federal Election Campaign Act] that apply to an independent expenditure-only PAC, or super PAC,” he told Roll Call on the eve of the ruling.